New Zealand: Chris Hipkins officially becomes Prime Minister

Chris Hipkins officially became New Zealand’s new prime minister on Wednesday, succeeding Jacinda Ardern at an inauguration ceremony in Wellington.

“It’s the greatest privilege and responsibility of my life,” said Mr Hipkins, 44, saying he was “motivated” and “excited” about the “challenges ahead”.

Chris Hipkins has been hailed for his almost two-year term as minister in charge of the fight against Covid-19, in a country which closed its borders to ward off the pandemic and only reopened them in August 2022 .

Jacinda Ardern stunned New Zealand last week when she abruptly announced her stepping down from power, less than three years after winning a second term in a landslide election victory.

Ms Ardern, 42, said she no longer had “enough energy” to carry on with her duties, after five years marked by a deadly volcanic eruption, the worst attack ever in the country and the Covid-19 pandemic .

“I leave with a feeling of gratitude after having carried out this wonderful role for so many years,” she told reporters in Ratana (north) on Tuesday, to the applause of some spectators, during her last public trip as Prime Minister.

– Fall in popularity –

But the popularity of the Labor government (centre-left) has deteriorated in recent months due to a looming recession and a resurgence of the Conservative opposition.

It will be up to Mr Hipkins, who rose to prominence leading his country’s heavy-handed response to coronavirus, to shoulder the daunting task of reviving his popularity ahead of the October 2023 general election.

The new Prime Minister has already set the course: “Covid-19 and the global pandemic are at the root of a health crisis. Now this crisis is also economic, and it is on this point that my government is focus,” he said.

Mr Hipkins, who describes himself as an ‘enthusiast outdoors’ who enjoys mountain biking, hiking and swimming, studied politics and criminology at the University of Victoria and later worked in the industrial training sector.

In Wellington, the New Zealand Prime Minister, just invested, also described as “absolutely odious” the attacks that his predecessor suffered when she was head of state.

While Jacinda Ardern’s resignation has sparked a nationwide debate about the denigration of women leaders, particularly on social media, the former prime minister said on Tuesday she would “hate” to see her sudden departure seen as criticism of his country.

Abroad, her departure was greeted by several personalities, including Prince William, who was one of the first to congratulate the one who has become, during her five-year term, the world symbol of a progressive policy.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins (right) poses with New Zealand Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro (centre) and Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni (left) on January 25, 2023 in Wellington (AFP – Marty MELVILLE)

“Thank you Jacinda Ardern for your friendship, leadership and support over the years, especially at the time of my grandmother’s death,” he wrote on Twitter.

British folk singer Yusuf “Cat” Stevens, who performed in New Zealand at the 2019 Christchurch bombing tribute ceremony, also greeted the former Prime Minister on this social network, thanking her for “keeping New Zealanders together” after this attack on the Muslim community.

Jacinda Ardern, who will continue to sit in Parliament, has announced her intention to distance herself from political oratorical contests.

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